Figma’s FigJam is a whiteboard tool with a human touch

For years, folks have been utilizing the web-based collaborative platform Figma to brainstorm uncooked concepts, roughing them out in visible kind as one may do on a conference-room whiteboard. They did so although Figma—formally an interface design and prototyping tool—was by no means meant for that exact goal. However when the corporate noticed its prospects embracing its product for whiteboarding, it put creating one thing optimized for the duty on its to-do checklist.

And for a very long time, there it stayed. “We by no means fairly prioritized it,” says Figma’s cofounder and CEO, Dylan Area. “Then the pandemic hit.” With Figma customers abruptly disadvantaged of precise bodily whiteboards in convention rooms, Figma had the inducement it wanted to place different initiatives apart and construct an equal in digital kind.

Dylan Area [Photo: courtesy of Figma]

It unveiled the results—which it dubbed FigJam, a nice identify—at its on-line Config convention in April 2021.  To ramp issues up shortly and get loads of suggestions, the corporate introduced that the total model can be a free beta for the remainder of 2021.

Eight months later, Figma isn’t disclosing a lot in the best way of stats regarding FigJam’s success up to now,  akin to what number of customers it’s racked up. Nevertheless it appears to be severe about its future. In October, it rolled out a major upgrade, which—because it lets third-party builders add new options within the type of widgets and plugins—may take the app to locations that may shock even its creators.

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Figma is already executed excited about FigJam as a response to the pandemic second. “Everybody wants these areas to congregate in and to get folks speaking,” says Area. “And everybody must run their conferences higher. How do you make it so that you simply’ve obtained nice instruments for that? I believe that’s a want that everybody has, whether or not they notice it but or not.”

The primary a part of the design course of

Even when Figma customers wanted one thing to assist them collaborate on concepts in tough kind, it wasn’t a provided that they’d flip to Figma for it. In any case, different digital whiteboards akin to Miro already existed. Did that depart Figma with room to create one thing that didn’t really feel redundant?

The truth that folks had been whiteboarding in Figma all alongside was proof that the road between whiteboarding and the corporate’s conventional area had all the time been blurry. “Earlier than you place a single pixel on canvas, there’s a lot of issues that occur as a part of the design course of,” says Yukhi Yamashita, Figma’s VP of product. “Like determining what to construct within the first place.” That continuity from brainstorm to completed product opened up the chance for Figma to construct a whiteboarding tool that was a logical extension of what it was already doing.

Yukhi Yamashita [Photo: courtesy of Figma]

The corporate additionally noticed whiteboarding as a approach to embrace extra non-design professionals within the design course of—one thing it’s cared about all alongside.  Of their early phases, initiatives have a tendency to incorporate “brainstorming and person flows and analysis synthesis and all these items that may herald

, researchers, entrepreneurs and engineers,” says  Yamashita. One stat that Figma is keen to share does validate that FigJam is reaching such folks: Of latest customers who didn’t have already got Figma accounts, 70% say they aren’t designers.

Past that, Figma wished to create one thing uncommonly pleasant, “in order that the humanity shines by way of,” explains Area. “As a result of it’s really easy to lose that whenever you’re making an attempt to collaborate aside. The infinite conferences—it’s a little soul-draining.”

FigJam is certainly approachable. All of the prerequisite old-school whiteboarding instruments are there, akin to the power to plop textual content and canned shapes on the whiteboard, assemble diagrams akin to circulate charts, and mark issues up with a drawing pen and highlighter.  A bevy of templates present ready-made areas for particular approaches to thought assortment and group, together with stakeholder mapping, kanban, and wishbone, amongst others—full with explanatory materials in case you aren’t acquainted with them.

The app will get a number of the humanity Area talks about from options that permit everybody take part with out having to grab the ground or in any other case break the collaborative circulate. In a Zoon assembly, says Yamashita, “it feels actually laborious to interrupt another person, unmute your self. and assert your individual opinion.” As a response, Figma gave FigJam customers the power to chime in through stamps, flurries of emojis, and cursor chat (which helps you to shortly sort messages that everybody can see).

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FigJam whiteboards can embrace charts, blocks of code, and a complete lot extra. [Photo: courtesy of Figma]

If FigJam’s debut in April was an acknowledgment that Figma noticed whiteboarding as a chance, the bulletins the corporate made in October proved that it wasn’t simply a passing curiosity. For one factor, it introduced particulars on FigJam’s evolution into a paid product. As of February, the free model will nonetheless allow you to create as many private whiteboards as you need, however will max out at three shared boards. $3 per person per 30 days will get you options akin to limitless shared whiteboards, shared libraries, and audio conversations. Large firms pays $5 per person per 30 days for added stuff tailor-made to their wants, akin to single sign-on functionality, unified billing, and superior safety choices.

However the larger information may need been that even earlier than Figma started charging for FigJam, it was turning it into an extensible platform open to third-party builders. They will write FigJam widgets, that are self-contained bits of performance that float on a whiteboard. And with plugins, they’ll create options that insinuate themselves extra deeply into FigJam in the identical manner that browser extensions work.

Lots of the ones that builders have produced are purely sensible. For instance, there’s a widget for tallying votes amongst these current within the whiteboard session—with the choice of anonymity—and ones for creating pie, bar, and org charts. Plugins embrace such utilitarian gadgets as a spell checker, a PDF viewer, and instruments for importing model belongings and inventory artwork.

Extra intriguing are the gadgets that make the FigJam expertise much more social, like a chat room widget you may stick in a nook of your whiteboard for aspect conversations. And others are primarily digital toys, like a Join 4 recreation, a fake Etch-a-Sketch, and a simulated Polaroid digital camera. “The creativity that individuals have dropped at this is fairly wonderful,” says Area.

The truth that a FigJam widget includes gameplay doesn’t imply that it’s a frivolous departure from the app’s deal with brainstorming. Within the case of 1 from a startup referred to as Donut, making play productive is the entire thought. Its widget affords up a number of game-like ice-breaking workouts, akin to Drawsome, a sketch-and-guess round-robin roughly akin to onetime social-gaming phenom Draw One thing.

“What we constructed with our Figjam widget is a approach to kick off a session, a assembly, or a brainstorming session with people, whether or not them or not,” explains Donut cofounder Dan Manian. Coding it went shortly, he says; determining which options to include into the widget took some pondering. The end result is a enjoyable, helpful expertise, which Figma would have been unlikely to assemble by itself. For now, Donut—which additionally builds ice-breaking instruments for platforms akin to Slack—is providing it free of charge.

Donut’s widget affords ice-breaking workouts supposed to assist get collaborative juices flowing in FigJam. [Photo: courtesy of Donut]

Alongside with introducing widgets and plugins, Figma took the benefit to tweak FigJam in response to person enter it had acquired within the months because the app went public. One lesson was that prospects wished to make use of it to brainstorm with folks exterior their organizations: “We had been fairly stunned that that was such a prevalent use case,” says Yamashita. That led to a new characteristic referred to as “Open classes,” which helps you to invite exterior visitors into a whiteboard session for twenty-four hours, no logging in required.

From FigJam to Figma

To actually take off, FigJam might want to attraction to Figma fans by itself phrases—but additionally as an extension of the workflows they have already got in place. For Zach Klein, the CEO of residence design-centric media model Dwell, that took time. When FigJam debuted, he wasn’t instantly smitten: “Actually, it didn’t catch my eye,” he recollects. “It appeared overly simplistic.”

Somewhat later, throughout a Zoom assembly with colleagues, Klein remembered that FigJam had a sticky notes characteristic and impulsively instructed all people to make use of it to generate and share concepts. The response offered him on the product. “There have been a number of folks with totally different consolation ranges with tech and expertise with Figma,” he says. “And I used to be astonished by how joyful it was. I didn’t have to clarify something to anybody.”

When you gather concepts in FigJam, getting them into Figma is simple, in keeping with Ryan Ma, a product designer at Stripe, one other Figma buyer. “Regardless that Figma and FigJam are fairly totally different instruments, there is fairly excessive compatibility between the 2,” he says. “It’s particularly useful when, after a brainstorm, you may simply be like, ‘Right here’s a cluster of stickies that seize, all of the ideas I’m going to go discover.’ You’ll be able to copy that and simply drop it into Figma.”

Then there’s Figma itself. The corporate could also be within the enterprise of on-line collaboration, however pre-COVID-19, it did a stunning quantity of its personal collaborating utilizing printed supplies, which necessitated folks being in a single place. “I believe it’s very easy for these sorts of brainstorming actions to be siloed after they’re occurring in a bodily area,” says Yamashita. “As a result of the document of it is very inaccessible. We realized that if we’ve got a design critique or a evaluation, we need to make that file accessible for those who weren’t there, so a number of the takeaways are there and folks can add to it asynchronously.”

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With FigJam, that turns into doable. And the advantages must be actual lengthy after the pandemic is a reminiscence—not only for Figma, however for different firms which can be nonetheless within the means of getting their work habits out of the workplace and into the cloud.